Ulrik Garde Due

CEO | Mark Cross



Ulrik Garde Due: The CEO of America’s Oldest Luxury Accessory Brand on How to Combat the Current Challenges and Celebrate 175 Years in Business

Ulrik Garde Due has more than 25 years of experience in luxury consumer goods, with a highly successful, versatile track record of building and reviving major consumer brands, leading change and enhancing brand equity. Prior to joining Mark Cross as President and CEO in 2018, Garde Due held President and CEO roles at Georg Jensen, Temperley London, and Fiskar’s portfolio including Wedgwood, Waterford, and Iittala.  Prior to that, Garde Due was part of the executive teams at both Burberry and Celine for over a decade and was responsible for revitalizing each company's respective heritage brand. Garde Due is leveraging a similar approach at Mark Cross, where he has already successfully implemented a consumer-centric, digital-first strategy to drive the brand's resurgence within the market. In addition to expanding the brand's retail presence, Garde Due has focused on introducing new product categories, launching the first vintage resale platform in luxury and facilitating American art and culture-themed collaborations.  
Mark Cross is the oldest American luxury accessory brand, celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion the company is building out it presence globally, with “World of Mark Cross” pop-ups in Hong Kong, Mainland China and South Korea this summer as well as unveiling their men’s collection relaunch this coming Fall with a pop-up at Selfridges in London.  The brand has established a sustainability goal plan to be executed starting in 2020, as well as strengthening their commitment to supporting the arts with their ongoing “Artist in Residence” program.

What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19? 

Our biggest concern is the health and wellbeing of our team, community, and customers. We have been working diligently on contingency plans during this crisis management period and are learning how to navigate from here. We also now need to shift towards reimagining the industry all together. It’s imperative that we examine how consumer behavior will shift after the pandemic and use this opportunity to reset and reshape the fashion supply chain.

A Mark Cross boutique.

I believe this exceptional period will accelerate some consumer shifts already in motion, such as the growing antipathy toward fashion-related waste, and in doing so, elevate consumer expectations for purpose-driven, sustainable action. At Mark Cross, we are rethinking the number of seasonal collections, the delivery flow, and proportion of core basic designs versus fashion themes, capsule collections, and exclusive limited editions. In addition, we are studying how to integrate upcycling within our core proposition with usage of excess materials.

What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation? 

Whilst we execute our contingency plan, we are now working on a post-COVID-19 plan that will begin over the coming months. Key to this approach will be an innovative mindset to ensure the future success of our unique 175-year-old American heritage brand. There have been significant changes to the luxury retail landscape, and we have put greater emphasis on our digital platforms by developing new partnerships to strengthen our communications and service with our consumers domestically and overseas. Furthermore, we have shifted our merchandise plans to offer new monthly deliveries that have a renewed sense of purpose.

The critical path in the luxury and fashion industries will likely shift toward a more sustainable model, away from fast fashion and the influx of too many collections in favor of a more sustainable and innovative model.

As we continue to navigate the global crisis of COVID-19, we remain fully committed to the business’s needs without compromising the well-being or values of our collective community. We check in with our Italian manufacturers daily as the safety of our craftsman is our top priority. All of our production is based in Italy, so with our factories being shut down for almost 7 weeks, we needed to readjust our deliveries both for our DOS and with our partners. We’ve also had to reimagine our merchandise planning and supply chain as we work through product delays in the near-term and will further these changes as we re-work the system in a more sustainable way going forward. We have taken a closer look at how we present our collections, which will likely differ from the traditional market calendar of four collections a year.

The Mark Cross Grace Cube bag.

We made the decision to close our Madison Avenue Flagship a few weeks back, however, markcross.com and our social media platforms (@markcross) remain fully operational to service our customers. Furthermore, we are in close contact with our key wholesale partners to strengthen distribution in the near-term and create strong long-term relationships.

How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?

It is imperative to use this opportunity to come out as a stronger industry on the other side. The fashion calendar has been malfunctioning with too many collections, presentations, excess production, etc for far too long. The lasting effects of COVID-19 will be dramatic and a definite wake-up call to how businesses operate. In general, the critical path in the luxury and fashion industries will likely shift toward a more sustainable model, away from fast fashion and the influx of too many collections in favor of a more sustainable and innovative model. Virtual-showroom formats could replace many of the numerous fashion presentations and travelling demand that goes into the current collection design process.

What have you learned from other difficult times in the past? 

During the 2008 financial crisis, I was CEO of Georg Jensen, and in the luxury segment at the time, we saw consumers return more quickly to quality, timeless goods than for more fashion-forward pieces. I believe many luxury consumers will be looking for so-called investment pieces —minimalist, last-forever items this time around as well. At Mark Cross, we embrace our value proposition making high quality, understated, timeless design. We are also seeing increased interest in our directly operated Mark Cross Vintage website, which underlines a more cautious and responsible consumption element that we think will resonate with consumers.

A Mark Cross canvas tote.

The consumer increasingly embraces digital solutions for shopping, and we are enhancing our digital capabilities by launching new innovative services and experiences. The more tailored bespoke shopping experiences we can offer both off and online, the more we realize that there is a plethora of benefits to having a physical location. We want to avoid making the mistake of diminishing our retail footprint, but rather leverage this time to reimagine the in-person experience seamlessly off and online. For example, going forward our retail assistants will be outfitted with enhanced digital solutions to live-stream services and campaigns, including influencer-curated assortments.

Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime


Morning routine?
I’ve been trying to exercise every morning and enjoy breakfast while catching up on emails and reading the newspaper. As I work on a different time zone, I have 8-12 hours working days filled with conference calls, so it is key to protect my morning ritual without any digital devices.

Currently binging?
I’ve been enjoying Medici The Magnificent and Les Bureau de Légendes.

Currently reading?
Currently finishing Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas and attacking Catherine Cusset’s Life of David Hockney.

What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
Playing Backgammon

What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
I’ve made exercising my morning ritual, and on the weekends, I’ve been doing a great amount of work rethinking the layout of our garden.

Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
I look forward to having a cappuccino at my favorite Cafe de Flore in Paris and enjoying my city.